Philoxenon

1 Timothy 3 is a familiar set of verses to me.  Paul’s list of qualities that ought to be looked for in an overseer or pastor of God’s people is hugely instructive.  It’s instructive in my life because of the vocation I’ve settled on, and it ought to be instructive in the lives of Christians everywhere.  

I’m sure it was discussed many different times in Seminary, but the one time I really remember it being discussed was in a course entitled Pastoral Theology.  Or something like that.  It had to do with pastors.  And the Bible and stuff.  The course was focused on practical theological application.  Doing ministry based on Scripture, not just talking about it.  Our professor was a very mature and experienced gentleman.  He gave us more handouts and photocopies than perhaps all of my other three years of coursework combined.  
But I was massively disappointed when we began discussing this passage in the course.  Particularly verse 2, which reads: 
“Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…”
The next verse continues the list.  Some of you who know me better are no doubt laughing hysterically and wondering why God hasn’t struck me with lightning yet, based on this list of qualities.  Just hush.
The one I was particularly interested in was hospitable.  The Greek word is philoxenon (the phonetic spelling), a derivative of philoxenos, which according to some resources I’ve consulted means “hospitable, generous to guests”, or “fond of guests, given to or lover of hospitality”.  I’m interested in this term because it’s something that my wife and I have felt a calling to in our life together.  We get genuine joy and satisfaction from gathering people together – usually over food.  We love to watch relationships deepen and grow and spread as people sit down with one another and relax around food and drink.  It’s truly amazing.
I believe our prof, having spent probably hours on all the other attributes in verses 2-4, explained this concept as “being nice, being approachable”.   And then it was on to something obviously seen to be more important and more pertinent.  I stink at Greek, but even I can tell that there is more going on in this word than simply being nice.   I was disappointed to say the least.
Our culture is not hospitable any longer, and so it’s understandable that he didn’t quite know what to do with this requirement.  When we meet people that intrigue us and interest us our natural reaction is to invite them to come over for dinner.  It’s fascinating to see the variety of facial expressions and non-verbal responses that sometimes greet this invitation.  It’s clear that we are transgressing some unwritten but near-universal aspect of our culture.  Something that says more or less home is for us, home is not for other people.  
But we’re stubborn and slightly masochistic so we keep inviting.  I can’t summarize all of the relationships that have sprung out of shared food in our married life together.  There is truly something holy about food (or at least there can be.  Taco Bell definitely qualifies as unholy).  There is something at play when people sit down to eat together that our culture has left behind in our rush for efficiency and comfort and any number of other objectives.
And I’m still fascinated that the art or skill of hospitality is listed as a prerequisite for spiritual leaders.  How do spiritual leaders live this out and embody it and teach it?  Should they?  I hope to start finding out next week through our congregation…I’ll keep you posted (and hopefully some of my parishioners who are readers will contribute their observations and thoughts once things get rolling as well!).

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